Vendor management does not have to be complicated; by following our best practices, understanding the process, and knowing what you plan to achieve by hiring a sales or marketing vendor, you can have a stress-free vendor management experience.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
What does Vendor Management Mean?
Vendor management is a term that describes the processes organizations use to manage their suppliers. Active vendor management programs can source and contract with high-quality suppliers to deliver quality, control costs, and mitigate risk.
In smaller companies, that is typically left up to managers or buying groups. In large enterprises, a Vendor Manager is generally in charge of finding and overseeing vendors to ensure their work is up to the standards that they set.
- Vetting and hiring vendors
- Establishing goals and standards
- Monitoring performance
- Reviewing work
- Setting up payments
Vendor managers will have signing authority on behalf of the organization and maintain the relationship with the supplier.
What Marketing Activities Can You Outsource to Vendors?
These days, you can outsource just about any business function, and it’s happening at an astounding pace. Taken as a whole, the outsourcing market accounted for more than $242 billion and is growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 8.5%, according to Grandview Research. Companies at every level are outsourcing, too. IBM and Deloitte outsource the most in the US, despite having more than 300,000 employees each.
In marketing, you can outsource to a full-service marketing company or manage aspects of your marketing and sales approach. Depending on your size, market, industry, and goals, you might consider outsourcing a variety of things, such as:
If you do not have a creative team on staff or if they are already working at maximum capacity, you can hire someone to design an email, social post, blog, website, logo, or presentation.
Copywriting is a great marketing activity to outsource. Someone with great writing skills can capture your thoughts, refine them to match your brand voice, and create more professional copy.
If you don’t have time to write blog posts, whitepapers, eBooks, articles, or videos, you can hire someone to take your ideas and use SEO techniques to help drive traffic.
Social Media Management
After the content has been created, you need well-curated copy for those social posts. A great way to make sure you’re creating high-quality content overall is to hire someone that knows how to capture and engage viewers.
Email is still an effective marketing tactic, but writing emails that cut through the clutter, get opened, and result in an action is time-consuming. A professional can use their experience to rework your ideas into emails that convert.
Getting your videos or podcasts transcribed can help with SEO and repurposing blogs. Even if you use software or a service, you’ll need someone to go in and clean up the text. You can get multiple posts, blogs, and ideas from transcriptions to help extend the reach of your content.
If you don’t have someone with the right voice quality or you’re uncomfortable being on camera, there are plenty of pros that can bring your content to life.
Not everyone has high-quality video equipment, audio equipment, lighting, and editing skills to create a great-looking video. When you hire someone that knows the ins and outs of creative video storytelling, you can save time and money.
HubSpot is a great tool that helps automate and scale your marketing operations. While it’s user-friendly, you may benefit from expert users. Also, if you want to try something new and need a little bit of help getting started, there’s a person out there for that.
Search Engine Optimization is essential for an online presence, but SEO and keyword research can be daunting, and it’s constantly evolving. Google updates its algorithm some 500-600 times a year, sometimes twice a day! When you outsource SEO to subject matter experts, you can get the latest expertise and don’t have to worry about staying up to date.
Types of Vendors
When you’re outsourcing, you’ll most likely be working with independent contractors or online platforms. There are pros and cons to each.
What is an independent contractor? Independent contractors are self-employed and have their own equipment, work on a temporary basis, and are paid per project. Most work independently for multiple clients, work offsite, and have flexibility over schedule and hours.
You can find these people through job postings, industry sites, and referrals. With an independent contractor, you will need to ensure your contracts, practices, and payment information provides you with legal protection.
- More control over the relationship and terms of the agreement
- Sometimes produces a higher quality product
- You can save money
- Can lead to less accountability on either side without the presence of an over-seeing body like Upwork or Fiverr
- Have to manage payments manually (PayPal, direct deposit, etc.)
Individuals on Platforms
You can also find freelancers for outsourcing work on platforms such as Upwork, Fiverr, Compose.ly, Verblio, ClearVoice, and dozens of others. People working on these platforms are also independent contractors and are paid through the app you hired them from.
Contracts, payments, and communication work through the platform, which provides your protection in case something goes wrong.
- Wide pool of talent
- Can be easier to assign things out
- More accountability
- Payments happen within the platform
- Often faster turn-around
- Sometimes include project managers
- Less control over what writer/designer gets assigned to your project
- Sometimes there are limited revision rounds
- Sometimes quality can be lower
- Sometimes doesn’t allow direct communication
Vetting and Selecting Vendors
Before you hire a writer, designer, or outsource an aspect of your marketing, you need to vet them carefully, especially when you’re trusting them with important jobs or sensitive information about your company.
It would help if you were clear about deliverables, expectations, and deadlines. If they’re creating something for you, such as writing, designing, or editing a video, you want someone to get it right the first time, but you also need to account for how revisions will be handled. For example, you should specify how many revisions may be requested and how quickly revisions must be completed.
You should have a document that lays all of this out before you come to an agreement. The clearer you are, the easier it will be to stay on track.
Of course, price and timelines are always important. You want the highest quality at an affordable rate, but you also have to be able to meet your internal deadlines. You can find freelance talent at every price point, but remember, you generally get what you pay for. Ask for samples and make sure the work meets your quality expectations.
In the back-and-forth dialogue, you should also be evaluating how they communicate with you. For example:
- Do they get back to you quickly?
- Do they answer your questions?
- Do they understand what you want?
- Can they demonstrate expertise?
If they aren’t following your directions before you hire them, it likely won’t improve once you engage them.
Vendor Red Flags
When you are vetting potential vendors, certain flags should alert you. When you spot one or several of them, pay attention. If you decide to continue, make sure you’re comfortable.
Vendor red flags include:
- Spelling or grammar errors in proposals, samples, or queries
- Not following specific directions
- A gut instinct that something isn’t right
- Slow, bad, or unresponsive communication
- Bad reviews
- Asking to be paid outside of the platform that you hired them from
Vendor Onboarding Process
To set vendors up for success, make sure you have your document in place. Since a vendor may not know your brand, how you phrase things, the style and voice, and your best practices, it helps to have guidance.
By doing so, you can cut down the learning curve.
Onboarding documentation will go beyond the contract, deliverable, and deadlines. It should include things like:
- Overview about your company and industry
- Branding and messaging
- Voice and tone
- Target customers, ideal customer profiles (ICPs)
- Competitor offerings and/or messaging
- The ground rules
- Your content process
- Best practices
You should also provide specifics on workload expectations, availability, and how your assignment, approval, and payment process works.
Challenges of Working with Vendors
There are some challenges in working with vendors. You don’t have complete control of when they work, how they work, or whether they will do things exactly the way you want. Plus, they are human and may make mistakes. It might also take a bit for them to learn your style and way of doing business. The best way to overcome this is through good communication. When you provide the information they need and make sure you’ve answered all of the questions, you’ll cut down on problems.
Managing vendors is not all that different than managing those within your company. If they are set up to succeed, you’ll get better results.
Even if you do everything right on your end, there can still be issues, especially when it comes to quality. You should demand quality and expect the work to be done on the timelines you agreed to. If something comes up that will impact either, you should expect communication well in advance so you can deal with it.
With most outsourcing, you’ll be working virtually. So whether it’s by email, phone, video, messaging channel, or document exchange, be careful about how your messages come across. Always ask for feedback to make sure they understand what you’re after.
Vendor Relationship Management Best Practices
You have hired someone that you really like and you think will be a great fit for the project. Now you need to set them up for success!
This starts even with your pre-onboarding documentation.
Best practices include:
- Establishing a budget for the project early so there are no financial hurdles later on
- Setting a realistic deadline for completion
- Give opportunities to revise and grow
- Maintain open communication and mutual respect
- Establish KPIs to measure performance
- Keep an audit trail on projects just in case
- Provide genuine feedback
- Require NDAs for sensitive or highly confidential information
The more professional upfront you are about everything, the easier things will be.
While you should always be kind and treat people with respect, you shouldn’t be afraid to be firm with your decisions. You’re paying the bills, so you should get what you want.
Working with Online Platforms
If you’re working with a platform, follow the rules. This helps streamline processes. Also, make sure you are only paying the vendor through the platform. This protects you from losing money if the work is never completed or there’s a problem. If freelancers ask to work outside these platforms or get paid outside the platform, it’s a red flag. 🚩
Diversify Your Portfolio
Diversify your portfolio – don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Even if you have found the perfect vendor, you never know when something could go wrong. Make sure you have a deep bench of vendors to take on the project if someone else cannot complete it. Diversifying your portfolio helps protect you and your project deadlines.
How to Know When to Stop Working with a Vendor
While you enter into vendor relationships with positive expectations, things sometimes don’t work out. For example, the work might not match your expectations, you might not get the results you want, or it simply isn’t the right fit.
The decision to stop working with a vendor can be tough, but they are a great learning experience. When things are going the way you want, you need to communicate that and allow them to fix it.
However, it's time to take a break when you've gone back and forth, and things haven't gotten better (or good enough to warrant a continued relationship). Similarly, if you are over clear with your expectations and the vendor doesn't understand them or ignores them, it may be time to stop.
That's why it's always wise to diversify your options, so if one vendor doesn't work out, you can move to another.
What’s the Difference Between Vendor Management and Vendor Relationship Management?
Vendor management typically focuses on price, contracts, deliverables, and timelines. Vendor relationship management focuses more holistically by developing a humanistic approach. At the end of the day, vendors are people, too. By building a relationship, you can stand out from competitors. And, everything flows more easily.
According to Joanne Spencer, Senior Direct Analyst at Gartner, relationships with strategic vendors are increasingly key to business performance. Building lasting and meaningful relationships with your vendors, especially the critical ones, produce greater collaboration and quality.
Beginner Tips for Outsourcing Marketing and Vendor Relationship Management
Here are a few final thoughts as you think about outsourcing your marketing workload:
- When evaluating vendors or platforms, check reviews sites to see what others are saying
- Take advantage of any free trials as a test
- Be flexible where you can, but firm where you can’t
- Don’t let yourself get pushed around
When dealing with vendors, remember there are always people behind these projects. Kindness and honesty go a long way. When you treat vendors with respect, it comes back to you, and it can help build the kind of partnership you want from a relationship.
You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Other people have done it (like us), and you can learn from our experience. If you’d like to learn more about the best practices for vendor relationship management, you can read our Vendor Relationship Guide. It’s an excellent resource for both newbies and experienced vendor managers.